Former Facebook data scientist and whistleblower Frances Haugen told UK lawmakers Monday that the social media giant is making online hatred and extremism worse, and outlining how it could improve online security.
Haugen appeared before a parliamentary committee reviewing the UK government’s bill to combat harmful online content, and her comments could help lawmakers improve the rules. She testified the same day Facebook was due to post its latest earnings and that a consortium of U.S. news organizations began posting stories based on thousands of pages of internal corporate documents she had received.
Haugen told UK lawmakers that Facebook groups increase hatred on the internet, saying algorithms that prioritize engagement take people with mainstream interests and take them to extremes. She said the company could add moderators to prevent groups from being used to spread extremist views.
Haugen added that she was “recently shocked to hear that Facebook plans to double the metaverse and that they will hire 10,000 engineers in Europe to work on the Metaverse, “said Haugen, referring to the company’s plans for an immersive online world that she believes will be the next big internet trend.
“I was like, ‘Wow, you know what we could have done for sure if we had 10,000 more engineers?’ It would be incredible,” she said.
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifies before a Senate committee that the social media giant is making profits from user safety.
It was Haugen’s second appearance before the legislature. She testified in the U.S. Senate earlier this month about the threat she believes Facebook poses, including harming children, inciting political violence and promoting misinformation. Haugen cited internal research documents she secretly copied before quitting her job in Facebook’s civil integrity department.
The documents Haugen made available to the US Securities and Exchange Commission claim Facebook made profits over security and hid its own research from investors and the public. Some stories based on the files have already been made public, exposing internal unrest after Facebook reported the US Capitol uprising on the 6th. More stories are set to follow.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has denied Haugen’s portrayal of the company as one that puts profit above the welfare of its users or disseminates divisive content, and says it paints the wrong picture. However, he agrees that updated internet regulations are needed, and says lawmakers are best placed to judge the compromises.
Haugen has told U.S. lawmakers that in their opinion a federal regulator is needed to keep digital giants like Facebook oversight officials in the UK and the European Union are already working on.
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The UK Government’s Online Safety Act calls for a regulator to be set up that would hold companies accountable for removing harmful or illegal content from their platforms, such as terrorist material or images of child sexual abuse.
“This is a pretty big moment,” said Damian Collins, the legislature who chairs the committee, prior to the hearing. “This is a moment similar to Cambridge Analytica, but possibly bigger as I think it offers a real window into the soul of these companies.” Cambridge Analytica company, which gathered details of up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission.
Representatives from Facebook and other social media companies plan to address the committee Thursday.
Before the hearing, Haugen met the father of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl who killed herself in 2017 after viewing unsettling content on Facebook-owned Instagram. In a chat filmed by the BBC, Ian Russell Haugen said that after Molly’s death, her family found notes she wrote about her Instagram addiction.
Haugen is also expected to meet with representatives of the European Union in Brussels next month where the bloc’s executive commission updates its digital rulebook to better protect internet users by making online businesses more accountable for illegal or dangerous content.
According to the British rules, which are due to come into force next year, Silicon Valley giants face a final fine of up to 10% of their worldwide sales for violations. The EU proposes a similar penalty.
The UK Parliamentary Committee hopes to learn more about the data technology companies have collected from Haugen. Collins said the internal files Haugen turned over to U.S. authorities are important because they reveal the kind of information Facebook holds – and what regulators should be asking when investigating these companies.
The committee has already heard from another Facebook whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, who raised the alarm about evidence of online political manipulation in countries like Honduras and Azerbaijan before she was fired.
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